Ideation 13: Positive Impact of your Project

Positive Impact of your project

Ideation 13

This lesson can help you earn points in the positive impact line of the Pitch video section of the rubric.

In this lesson, you will…

  • Consider the ethics of technology and AI
  • Make sure your project will have a positive impact on its stakeholders

Key Terms

  • Ethics - a set of moral principles that affect how people decide what’s right or wrong
  • Bias - preconceived ideas somebody has that are often unfair to some people or groups
  • Stakeholders - people or entities that will affect or be affected by decision or actions take by an organization or business

Ethics and Actions

Ethics is a part of philosophy that has to do with what is right or wrong. This is an important topic in the world of technology and especially AI today for many reasons! You’ll want to make sure your project is making decisions that help people and society instead of causing harm, even if the harm is by accident. 

Algorithmic bias is where the coder or AI creator causes their program or model to treat some users better than others, or to create unfair outcomes for users. It may not be intentional but can still affect users negatively. 

Pledge to make sure your project has only a positive impact!

We all use technology every day and are often unaware of what that technology is actually doing - how we are reacting to it, what it is doing to our psyche. In October, 2021, it was revealed that Facebook (now Meta), through its own research, was aware of the harm it was causing to some of its users, yet did nothing to fix the situation. The Wall Street Journal published a detailed account of the serious issue. One example from NBC News:

 “Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram (owned by Facebook) made them feel worse,” the researchers reportedly wrote. Facebook also reportedly found that 14% of boys in the U.S. said Instagram made them feel worse about themselves.

Facebook whistleblowers have come forward following the Wall Street Journal articles with further information that Facebook promoted disinformation and ignored hate speech and illegal activity from certain users. Software companies such as Facebook are so influential around the world and have a responsibility to make sure their software does no harm. 

While your app or AI project is just starting out and does not have the reach of Facebook or Instagram, you still need to think carefully about who will use your product and how they might be affected by it.

This video, although labelled AI, is a good commentary on technology in general and how important it is to consider how what you create will impact others.

As you develop your project, you need to consider your stakeholders. Stakeholders are people or entities that are affected by decisions or actions taken by your project. Certainly your users are affected by your project. They are considered direct stakeholders in your project. But there might be other stakeholders, who are called indirect stakeholders, as they may be affected by your technology, but not necessarily directly. For example, if your project involves educating people about fake news, various news organizations would be indirect stakeholders. When creating your project, you need to consider all of your stakeholders to make sure you are doing no harm to them.

This video explains stakeholders in more detail as well as other key points for making ethical technology.

 

If your project is a mobile app, here are some things to think about as you develop it. 

  • Does your app collect user data? 
  • Do your users know it? 
  • Do you have permission to collect the data? 
  • What steps are you taking to keep their data private? 
  • Is the advice or information you provide in your app accurate? 
  • How do you know?

Developing a mobile app for youth privacy infographic

Infographic by YTH and Vodafone Americas Foundation

If your project includes AI, think about what makes “healthy” data. Removing bias in your data helps make your model healthier, so that it can make better decisions. Here’s a video that goes into more detail around bias in training data:

We can also think about the ethics of the action taken by a technology. Imagine an AI technology called the Weed Puller that predicts what plants are weeds and pulls them out. Using the Weed Puller as a base, consider the following:

How can you remove bias from your datasets?
  • Data should reflect the characteristics of the population on which the invention is being used. If your data has bias, the AI model might make mistakes.
  • Imagine if the Weed Puller has a dataset of images of weeds found only in the desert. What if we want to use Weed Puller near water? It might not work, because it was not trained with data to help it recognize weeds found in near water. The Weedpuller has a bias for desert plants! 
A weed found in the desert

A weed found near the water

See how different they look! The characteristics of weeds in the desert are drastically different from those near the water.

What decisions does your AI invention make?
What are all the actions your AI project could take?
What if your AI invention makes a mistake?
Does your AI invention use or share sensitive data?
How does your AI model interact with or make predictions connected to people?

As creators, we bear responsibility on how our technology interacts with people and we should always be mindful of the potential impact our creations can have.

Activity: Ethical Journey

First, identify who your stakeholders are, both direct and indirect.

Then, follow the flowchart of questions, and check that you are doing everything you can to make your project have only positive impact.

Reflection

Now that you have learned more about ethics and your part in making sure your project has only positive impact, consider these questions:

  • What have you learned about technology and ethics that has surprised you?
  • Do you look at any of the technologies you use every day differently now?
  • What part can you play in making technology more ethical?

Additional Resources

For more about ethics, check out the MIT AI Ethics Curriculum.